Gerald “Digger” Moravek was a rancher, an early environmentalist, and a dog killer.  Just like Kristi Noem, but not.

In the summer of 1984, I lived on the ranch of Gerald “Digger” Moravek, just outside Sheridan, Wyoming.  Like many of the ranchers who banded together to establish the Powder River Basin Resource Council, where I was working, Digger was drawn to environmentalism partly for self-interested reasons:  in the early 1970s a coal company was blasting near his land and damaging his house.  But fighting coal companies and limiting the damage from strip mining was not just a personal issue for Digger, it was a moral issue and a life-defining cause.  He sued, helped to launch PRBRC, and I believe that eventually he testified before Congress about the need to regulate strip mining.  (Here is testimony he gave at the 10th anniversary of the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act; I can’t find his original testimony.)

When I lived with Digger, he was suing another company, Big Horn Coal, for blast damage to his house.  There were seismographs in the basement recording the blast waves.  A sensible person would have sold out and moved, but his wife was buried on the ranch, and, frankly, he just hated coal companies.  He gave me a place to stay, and in exchange I looked after his few remaining animals when he had to travel for depositions.  He had ducks, chickens, peafowl, and a few large animals.  He also had a dog who lived outside.  I rarely saw the dog, even when I was traipsing around feeding the animals.  It was old and barely able to move.

It would be a serious mistake to think that Gerald Moravek was a progressive, or even a moderate liberal, just because he was an environmentalist and hated coal companies.  Digger was not the kind of person you would be likely to strike up a conversation with at the Met Gala.  I won’t share any of his social views.  They were bad in 1984 and haven’t aged well.  But I need to tell you about Digger and his guns. 

Digger was ex-military – rumor had it that he got the name Digger in the army because he drove a used hearse – and he had a lot of guns.  When my friend Grant, the executive director of PRBRC, took me out to meet Digger, he was in a shed working on his truck.  At first he didn’t say anything to me, or even look up, he just told Grant to take me inside the house and show me around.  But then he looked at me and said

“Son, there’s just one thing you need to know.  Every gun in that house is loaded.” 

And those loaded guns were everywhere; a minor misstep and you could blow your head off doing the laundry.  A few months later, Digger drove east to visit me and some other friends.  (Yes, we liked each other, although I did not know he liked me until he told me he was coming to visit.)  On his trip east he accidentally stayed one night at a motel with a one-way mirror in the room.  This evidently made Digger feel unsafe, so he slowly took his pistol apart in front of the mirror, cleaned it, then put it back together and stuck it under his pillow.

This brings us, naturally, to Kristi Noem and her now deceased puppy Cricket.

Noem is an ambitious politician.  She decided to tell the world that she shot her misbehaving young dog in a gravel pit because she thought it would win her support from some segment of the voting public.  She badly miscalculated; even conservative media is roasting her.  I’m not surprised. 

Noem was right about one thing:  rural people sometimes shoot their dogs.  One day I returned home from work and Digger told me that he had put down his dog.  He didn’t call a vet and get the dog an injection.  He shot it.

And that’s where the similarity with Noem ends.  Even hard-bitten libertarian ranchers do not wantonly kill young dogs and then brag about it in public.   Noem shot Cricket out of anger.  Digger was a reluctant shooter.  He had never seemed to care much for his old dog.  It was not a pet.  I don’t recall him ever using its name.  It had belonged to his late father, and Digger had promised his dad he would look after it, so he did.  Nevertheless, he was clearly upset about shooting the dog, even though the dog was at the end of its life.  He told me what he had done, but he couldn’t talk about it; he cut me off when I started to reply. 

There is no way Digger would have shot a misbehaving puppy in a fit of rage.  Honestly, what was Noem thinking? 

Anyway . . .

During the summer I lived with him, Digger complained to me several times that someone at his bank was telling Big Horn Coal how much cash he had in his account, and the company was running up legal bills to bankrupt him.  By the time Digger visited me in the fall he had settled the law suits (you can read about it here, page 5).  He was sick with emphysema, and he was out of money, but he continued his work with PRBRC for several years.